What Sales Leaders Can Learn from Epicurean Philosophers

By Hope Eyre on May 28, 2020

It’s called Pandemic Downtime, and we have it. That extra time we’d normally never have because we’re on airplanes, entertaining clients, and generally doing the things people do when they’re free to leave the house.

A lawyer friend of mine and his wife always have interesting podcast recommendations. So while I was browsing through a list they’d given me, I stumbled across a series called Philosophize This!  by Stephen West.

The host is a superb storyteller, adept at explaining philosophical tenets in a relatable, entertaining way. Imagine attending a lecture on Socrates given by Jimmy Kimmel. That’s what he’s like.

My colleague, Warren, was nearing the end of a Thomas Keller cooking series he’d been watching on Masterclass, so I suggested Philosophize This!  We figured strolling through non-business topics while we had the time might boost creativity when we returned to a faster pace.

Philosophy isn’t exactly familiar territory for either of us, but after listening to a few episodes (Daoism, Confucianism, Stoicism), we were hooked. It was only a matter of time before we started trying to relate the concepts we learned to the business of sales.

We caught up with each other after listening to an episode about the Epicurean school of Greek philosophy.

“I thought it would be about food.”
“Me too.”

Followers of Epicurean philosophy in 307 B.C. Athens, as it turns out, lived on a commune at the city’s edge and advocated a simple life devoid of overindulgence or ambition, including the typical Athenian pursuits of wealth and success.

Warren and I decided they would make terrible sellers, but great sales coaches given some of their core principles.

Perception vs Reality

Epicureans held, for example, that our senses are unreliable. We perceive the world in a flawed way, but it isn’t our eyes and ears that are at fault. Rather it’s our mind’s tendency to see circumstances as we wish them to be that keeps us from reality.

How many times have you pushed out the close date on a deal that’s dead; you just didn’t want to admit it? Or perhaps you put on your “happy ears” and interpreted a prospect’s lackluster interest as an earnest buying signal.

We paused to imagine an Epicurean Sales VP insisting on deal reviews so peers and managers could objectively point out limitations in win strategy.

Quantity vs Quality

Epicureans also thought people harbored irrational fears that caused them to spend far more time worrying about quantity vs. quality... of life and indeed of many things. Sellers quick to fill up a pipeline with low-quality deals often do so because they fear criticism from managers about not having enough volume.

How might their behavior change and what results might they get if that fear were removed?

Pain and Friendship

Another Epicurean belief, often confused today with hedonism, is “The goal of life is to be free of pain.” Imagine reaffirming your customer-centric sales philosophy by swapping the word “life” with “the customer” in this core tenet. What would that say about your commitment to helping them solve their problems?

And then there’s this one: Epicureans built their lives on the core belief that friendship is the only way to counter the inevitable pain of life. “Eating without a friend is the life of the lion or the wolf,” they said.

We don’t sell alone, especially in complex B2B sales. And it’s the degree of trust and mutual respect among account team members that can make or break our success.

As we’ve been reminded in “The Last Dance” series about Michael Jordan and the 1990’s Chicago Bulls, “there is no I in team, but there is in win.”

You’ll forgive us for mixing philosophy with basketball. We just really miss sports.

Topics: sales process

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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